Thursday, December 11, 2014

The great fish that swallowed Jonah, a Whale or a Dinosaur?

Jonah 1:17 says "Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." The word for great is Gadowl (gaw-dole'); , Strong #: 1419, which can mean great, or high, or mighty. But can also simply mean large in size. The word translated fish is Dag (dawg); Noun Masculine, Strong #: 1709 It is always translated fish. But to the ancient Hebrews is meant any water dwelling animal.

In the KJV of Matthew 12:40 Jesus says "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth".

Now critics of The Bible love to go on here about Whales being Mammals. And Christians respond very correctly by saying it's absurd to impose modern animal classifications on ancient people.

While I'm in no way disagreeing with making that argument. I feel the need to point out that in the Greek the word used is Ketos, which is often transliterated Cetos or Cetus. The Greek Septuagint text of Jonah likewise calls the creature a Mega Ketos.

This is the name of the mythical sea monster of Greek mythology that tried to devour Andromeda and was killed by Perseus. It's not a coincidence either, that myth like the story of Jonah is linked to the ancient port city of Joppa/Jaffa/Japha in the territory originally allotted to Dan. Which is today part of modern Tel-Aviv.

Interestingly, while the most common version of the story has Perseus simply slaying the sea monster, Lycophron, in the Alexandra (834-42), records a variant version where Perseus is swallowed by the monster and kills it from the inside out:
" And he shall visit the towers of Cepheus and the place that was kicked by the foot of Hermes Laphrios, and the two rocks on which the petrel leapt in quest of food, but carried off in his jaws, instead of a woman, the eagle son of the golden Sire – a male with winged sandals who destroyed his liver. By the harvester’s blade shall be slain the hateful whale dismembered…"
 Some bones found at Joppa in ancient times were identified as the animal of the Perseus legend. Pliny (Natural History 9.4) records that they were taken to Rome in 58 BC, and from his description of them it seems that they were very likely the bones of a whale:
" M. Scaurus, in his ├Ždileship, exhibited at Rome, among other wonderful things, the bones of the monster to which Andromeda was said to have been exposed, and which he had brought from Joppa, a city of Jud├Ža. These bones exceeded forty feet in length, and the ribs were higher than those of the Indian elephant, while the back-bone was a foot and a half in thickness."
 This well known account may be the reason it became popular during the Proto-Enlightenment times of King James to translate the word Ketos as whale. However I feel it is highly unlikely the Perseus legend was really originally inspired by a whale. But it doesn't surprise me that the first time bones of a large sea animal were found in or near the city in question people made the assumption it was the same creature.

I should note the three occurrences in the KJV of Whale in the OT (Genesis 1:21, Job 7:12 and Ezekiel 32:2) the Hebrew word is Tanniyn (tan-neen'); Noun Masculine, Strong #: 8577 a word elsewhere translated Serpent and once Sea Monster, but most commonly Dragon, including elsewhere in the same portions of Ezekiel, the series of Prophecies about Egypt that began with Chapter 29.

In fact every time you see Dragon in the Old Testament it's either this or a clearly etymologically related word like Tan or Tannah. Including Isaiah 27:1 "In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea." Where Isaiah's poetic style clearly uses it as synonymous with Leviathan. While here this creature is being used symbolically of Satan, setting the stage for Revelation 12. Leviathan is definitely a real Animal described in zoological terms in Job 41.

I think Tanniyn is a broader term for various animals we'd today call Dinosaurs and/or Plesiosaurs, both ones that are purely Sea Based, Amphibious and purely Land Based. And Leviathan is a specific animal or kind of animal. From here I'd recommend studying various other Creationists theories on what exactly Leviathan is, I haven't made up my mind yet.

So Jonah may have been swallowed by Leviathan, or a different Dinosaur, or perhaps a Plesiosaur. But I've decided I don't think it was likely a whale, though I know the most absolutist of my fellow KJV onliers will object to that.

On a humorous ending note. I find myself now thinking of one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies. And the scene surrounding it.

 Star Wars Episode I:The Phantom Menace
"There's always a bigger fish"-Qui-Gon Jin